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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Apollo, London

By Michael Leech

  Amanda Hale/Photo: Borkowski

The first of many plays by Tennessee Williams to receive a Broadway production (in 1945 when he was 34), The Glass Menagerie revealed a raw new American writing talent, and this success contains many clues to the playwright's early life. Set in St Louis in depression times it remains a heartfelt, compelling, almost unbearable chronicle as the tale of the Wingfields, a small family, held together by a lonely, increasingly desperate mother, unfolds.

It still seems fresh and undated - a revival well worth seeing. I first worked on it in the late 60's at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, when it held often-difficult student matinee audiences captivated. In part to get a fresh view myself, I took a writer who had never seen it: I'm pleased to say she was enthralled.

Rupert Goold has staged it well with intrigung entrances and exits up and down fire escapes. His casting of Amanda Hale as the disabled daughter (a tremulous, trembling Laura) and Mark Umbers (as the long desired suitor, or Gentleman Caller) is immaculate. He makes you see just how poor Laura will look back on this sole romantic episode in a sad life which has revolved around her collection of glass animals. In the controlling role of Tom (a self portrait of Williams) Ed Stoppard is less focussed, but all three have had to download dodgy Southern accents. Surely this classic play hardly needs them now?

Heaven knows Mrs Wingfield has had a hard life with a missing telephone husband who 'fell in love with long distance' but in an otherwise passionate portrayal, Jessica Lang's smooth polished features often remain too frozen, her mounting anxiety too fluttery. She is of course the only American in this essentially American play. The other actors are presumably English? (Oh why don't programme biographies give you more personal background now?)

It certainly is a strong, truthful version of a great play, grabbing the attention right though. The set (Matthew Wright) is a web of shadows, darting beams and steep stairways, but Adam Cork's otherwise impressive music is much too loud.


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